First Nations warns British Columbia is in “crisis” over open-net cage salmon fish farms

More than 100 First Nations and fishery groups used a Tuesday press conference to call on the Canadian government to proceed with the phasing out of open-net cage farms, warning the region is in a “crisis situation.”

Speaking to the media, representatives from five First Nations backed the government’s transition plans to phase out the open-net farms in British Columbia by 2025. The speakers supported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s proposal due to their concerns about the impact the fish farms are having on the wild salmon population in the area.

Under the current transition plans, the open-net cage fish farms would be moved on land, removing them from the waterways, where opponents of the farms claim the fish put sea lice and disease in the path of wild salmon.

Read also: “Future of home-grown salmon” at stake in Canadian dispute

“We must recognize the crisis situation we’re in,” Chief Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance stated, warning that there could be no wild salmon left in British Columbia if action is not take swiftly by the government.

“This is an issue that should be of grave concern for all British Columbians,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of Union of British Columbian Indian Chiefs, added, claiming that the steady decline of wild salmon is infringing on the right of First Nations to food security.

According to the group Pacific Wild, the wild salmon feed humans and serve as the primary source of food for animals in the region. The First Nations claimed that the continued existence of the species is also of significant cultural importance to their territory.

The future of salmon farms in British Columbia has become a contentious issue between different groups. The Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) has been fiercely advocating for the renewal of 79 farming licences that are set to expire in June, having recently travelled to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, to lobby officials.

“As the original stewards of Canada’s coastal waters for millennia, we are calling on you to re-issue salmon farming licences in the territories of the Nations who want to pursue it,” the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS) said in a statement released on social media at the end of March.

A recently released report found outlined how British Columbia communities would lose 4,700 jobs and, as much as, $1.2 billion in economic activity per year if all 79 farming licences are not renewed. The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million.

The federal government having not yet made a formal decision on the future of the 79 salmon farming licences.The Canadian government has, so far, closed around a quarter of the salmon farms in British Columbia, refusing to renew licences for 19 sites in the Discovery Islands.

The Discovery Islands was previously identified by the Cohen Commission of causing a bottleneck for wild salmon migration routes, resulting in a recommendation that the fish farms in the area should be removed unless the fisheries minister could be satisfied that they posed no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.

The ministry’s own scientists did find that the farms posed no more than a minimal risk but, despite that advice, the Trudeau government ordered the closure of the farms anyway.